He’s a member of the Texas Rangers now, but remember how Prince Fielder came to be on the Detroit Tigers? It was via a devastating injury to Victor Martinez, which opened up a need for an impact bat and, in turn, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch’s wallet.
I can’t help but wonder if similar circumstances might result in Ervin Santana becoming a teammate of Fielder’s. Or, at the least, I’m wondering if it should happen.
Before anybody gets the wrong idea, LET ME CLARIFY that I haven’t seen any rumors that say the Rangers are circling the free-agent right-hander. Nor am I reporting that they are. This is strictly speculation.
But not baseless speculation. It’s warranted by the very real injury concerns the Rangers have in their starting rotation.
Last month, Derek Holland injured his left knee in a freak accident, requiring him to have arthroscopic surgery. As reported by Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News, Holland is expected to be out until the All-Star break.
Now there’s bad news about another of Texas’ lefties. After missing pretty much all of 2013 with injuries, T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reports that Matt Harrison is experiencing stiffness in his lower back and that he’s returning to Texas for further examination.
Two of the three surgeries (!) Harrison had last year were on his back. The stiffness he’s experiencing now is apparently in the same area that gave him trouble.
Which, yeah, is not good.
And this leads us to question time: With Holland already down and Harrison possibly going down as well, what do the Rangers stand to miss out on in 2014?
Let’s go to FanGraphs and check out the 2014 Steamer projections for both pitchers:
Steamer has already adjusted for Holland’s prognosis, but aside from that, it still expects him to be a quality pitcher when healthy in 2014. That projected 1.7 WAR jells with what FanGraphs‘ Jeff Sullivan wrote about Holland: “Before he got hurt, it would’ve been wise to project him to be worth something between three and four wins.”
As for Harrison, that projection does come off as being a bit generous considering all he went through in 2013, but we do know it’s not a question of talent with him. Between 2011 and 2012, he was worth 7.7 fWAR. Surely he could manage a 2.3 fWAR if healthy.
But now you have to wonder if Harrison can deliver even that much value. And if you take what the Rangers’ rotation is already due to miss out on with Holland’s injury, they’re looking at a situation where their rotation could be missing out on anywhere between 2-4 WAR if Harrison misses some time.
Maybe that’s not a deal-breaker in a deep rotation, but the Rangers don’t have one of those. Yu Darvish—who is my pick for the American League Cy Young—is amazing, and Martin Perez is decent, but then it’s guys like Alexi Ogando (hurt for much of 2013), Nick Tepesch (4.84 ERA in ’13) and Tommy Hanson (all downhill since the 2012 All-Star break).
Then there’s also the reality that there’s not going to be a large margin for error in the AL West. As I wrote last week, the division got awfully deep this offseason. The A’s got more depth, the Angels got more pitching, the Mariners got the winter’s best talent and the Astros got actual major league talent.
Point being: Yeah, Holland’s and Harrison’s health could cost the Rangers dearly in 2014. They can’t afford to miss out on the production they stand to miss out on. What they need is a safety net.
Which brings us, finally, to Ervin Santana.
I’ll cut to the chase and get right into the numbers. Here’s what Santana did in 2013 and what Steamer projects him to do in 2014:
In short: Santana was pretty good in 2013 and should be pretty good once again in 2014.
And that’s believable. Since he’ll be going into his age-31 season, Santana obviously isn’t on the verge of a decline phase just yet. It also looks good that, rather than decline in 2013, Santana’s velocity actually experienced a slight uptick. You can get a glimpse of that over at Brooks Baseball.
Now, sure, living with Santana does mean living with home runs. He had a 12.4 HR/FB rate in 2013, the fourth year out of five in which his HR/FB rate finished over 10.0.
You’re also right to wonder if the move from Kauffman Stadium to Globe Life Park in Arlington would be a tough transition for Santana, as it would basically be a total 180 of run-scoring environments. In particular, it’s possible that Santana’s home run problem would become even worse.
Or maybe not.
There’s something to be noted about the 46.2 GB% Santana posted in 2013: That was a career high, and it was no accident. It coincided with his sinker becoming a bigger part of his arsenal, as Brooks Baseball can vouch:
Santana’s sinker boasted a 60.13 GB/BIP rate, the highest of any of his pitches. He couldn’t have kept the ball on the ground a career-high amount without it.
Given the success he had with his sinker in 2013, here’s thinking Santana won’t be shy about going to it more often in 2014. Especially if he finds himself in a hitting environment as harsh as Arlington. And if that were the case, well, the move from Kansas City to Texas wouldn’t be so bad after all.
If we accept that Santana could help the Rangers withstand the injury blows to Holland and Harrison, the next question is whether the Rangers signing Santana is even practical. With their payroll, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, already expected to be higher than ever in 2014, can the Rangers afford him?
Well, we can put it this way: Santana is probably more affordable right now than he’s been all winter.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported in November that Santana was seeking a $100 million contract. That was never going to happen, and now he might be lucky if he gets half that.
This is what Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports tweeted in late January:
This was well after Ricky Nolasco signed for four years and $49 million. Then Matt Garza signed for four years and $52 million. More recently, Ubaldo Jimenez signed for four years and $50 million. Since these were Santana’s three most relevant comps, it’s likely that he’s also in line for something similar.
It doesn’t help that Santana’s market doesn’t appear crowded with suitors. There was talk of the Baltimore Orioles being in on him even after signing Jimenez, but MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli says not to count on it.
And one thing the Rangers wouldn’t have to worry about in the short term is forfeiting their first-round draft pick to sign Santana. That pick was lost when they signed Shin-Soo Choo.
And while signing Santana to that sort of contract would mean bumping their 2014 payroll up even higher, the Rangers will be able to clear some space after the season by declining Alex Rios’ $13.5 million club option. His job could go to Michael Choice, and the club’s payroll would level out nicely.
That there’s been zero buzz about the Rangers making a move on Santana could suggest that general manager Jon Daniels is determined to move forward with what he has. In fact, Daniels did tell Kevin Sherrington of the Morning News that outside rotation help is not on the way; “at least right now,” anyway.
Or maybe Daniels just hasn’t yet realized how badly his club could be screwed by Holland’s and Harrison’s health woes. If that’s the case, maybe it won’t be long before he realizes that signing Santana is a move he can and should make.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
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